This article was originally written for The Meta Maker Wizard support page. Bits have been updated to take into account current practices.
Meta tags are one of the ways in which you can effectively control a summary of your site that may be used by a search engine to check it’s relevance to a users query. Although not supported by all search engines they are worth adding to your HTML documents nonetheless. Meta tags are hidden away in your code and are therefore not visible to your viewers, unless of course they choose to take a peek at your page source.
You should note that the inclusion of meta tags is no guarantee that your pages will suddenly leap to the top of every search engine listing. However, they do help describe your pages to search engines that make use of meta information.
There are three important tags that are worth adding to every HTML document you create. The first is the title tag and is used by some search engines to list your site. The trick here is to make your title a brief description of the page contents rather than simply your company or site name. Keep your title short and do not include any non-letter characters such as ®, ©, &, etc.
The description tag returns a description of your page in place of the summary a search engine would otherwise create from the first few lines in the body text. Keep your description to one sentence and try and include some important keywords that are highly relevant to the page.
The third meta tag is the keywords tag. Although this tag provides important keywords for a search engine to associate with your page most of them choose to simply ignore this tag. For those search engines that do pay some attention to the keyword tag avoid using repetitive keywords and phrases (known as keyword spamming) as many search engines will refuse to list the page and you may risk having your entire site banned by them. Most search engines allow up to 150 keywords and phrases. However, less is better as it increases the density of the few keywords you carefully chose and a search engine will bump up your listing as a result.
You could try using keyword phrases in other languages especially if your site has international appeal. Try not to repeat a specific keyword more than twice. If you do, avoid listing them next to each other and always use the plural. For example, if your keyword is ‘tag’ and someone searches for ‘tags’ your site may not be listed, on the other hand if you use the keyword ‘tags’ and someone searches for ‘tag’ you will. Also remember to use lowercase letters and separate each keyword in the tag with a comma.
Not as important is the robots tag which is used to guide a search engine robot or spider. The default for the robots attribute is “all”. This would allow all of the files on your page to be indexed. The attribute “None” would tell the spider not to index any files and not to follow any hyperlinks on the page to others. “Noindex, follow” would mean that the spider is free to follow the links from this page to other pages, but not index the page itself. Whereas “index, nofollow” would allow the page to be indexed, but the links would not be followed.
Other none essential tags include the name of the page author, his/her email address and a copyright statement. The later is a useful inclusion because to view web pages browser programs actually download page elements onto a persons computer where they can be easily saved and reused. The category and rating tag is self explanatory. Choose a category that best describes the broad theme of your site and a rating to suit.
The refresh tag is quite special and is used only in circumstances when you want to automatically redirect visitors to another page. This tag is useful if you move a page but expect a number of your visitors to go looking for it at the old address because their favorites or a search engine listing hasn’t been updated. This tag can also be used to create simple effects such as displaying a splash screen that automatically moves the viewer on.
Statistics tell us that only around 21% of web pages use meta tags. Therefore if you use meta data you may get ahead of competitors that don’t utilise it. To give your site an added edge produce new meta tags tailored to every page you create, then if allowed submit each to your chosen search engine. By doing this you will hopefully get many individual listings each pointing towards a specific area of your site. Don’t forget to place your meta tags between the <head> and </head> tags before the body of the document and make sure each meta tag runs on a single line of HTML code with no line breaks. Search engine spiders can stumble on a meta tag that is placed on multiple lines and may not read it correctly. This is how meta tags look in a HTML document:
<head> <title>Title goes here</title> <meta name="title" content="title goes here again"> <meta name="description" content="your description goes here"> <meta name="keywords" content="your keywords go here"> etc.......... </head> <body>
For more information on meta tag definitions try The Dictionary of Meta Tags.